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Dangerous Wandering a Lesser Known Side of Autism
Date:3/24/2011

wful of dangers if we didn't always know where he was," his mother, Sheila Medlam, said.

They had installed multiple locks on every door, and his mom slept next to Mason at night because she feared he would try to leave.

"I was terrified that he would wake up in the night and somehow find a way out of the house and be lost to me forever," she said. "I couldn't take him to a babysitter's house because there weren't any that had taken the precautions we had. How many child-care providers are willing to add multiple locks to their doors and take on such a risk as a child who wanders at the first opportunity?"

But their efforts weren't enough. One sweltering day, her son left through a window that was opened because the air-conditioning had broken. She found her son in the pond.

Sheila Medlam has started a foundation that supports a "Mason Alert," a program similar to the Amber Alert to immediately notify responders about missing persons who are prone to wandering, including information such as if they are verbal or nonverbal, how they respond under stress, the location of nearby hazards such as bodies or water or railroad tracks and the person's fascinations, which could offer clues about where they might be found.

As with every aspect of autism, there are degrees of wandering that vary from person to person. For some, like Matthew Christiaanse, it's an occasional, unexpected event, which makes it difficult to prepare or prevent it, his mother said.

For others, wandering or running off is a daily battle. Some distraught parents have resorted to putting locks on bedroom doors because their autistic child is intent on leaving, even in the middle of the night.

One solution is using GPS devices or tags, which are sometimes used for people with dementia, Dawson said. To enable families to get insurance coverage for such devices, Autism Speaks, the National Autism Association and other autism advocacy and awareness organizations are
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